New Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes has had to hit the ground running since his hiring in January, tasked with trying to turn around a franchise that went nowhere under the previous regime of general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia.
Though new head coach Dan Campbell was named less than a week after Holmes’ arrival, the new general manager has helped oversee free agency, the NFL Draft and the formation of Campbell’s coaching staff, among other responsibilities.
Holmes recently sat down for a wide-ranging interview with The Detroit News. Part 1 of that interview is below, with Part 2 scheduled to publish Wednesday for Thursday’s print edition.
Questions are paraphrased, some answers are edited for brevity and clarity.
► Question: You’ve been on the job for several months now. Has it all set in? Are there still times it doesn’t feel real?
► Answer: “That’s a great question because there are times where I still see things that, I may hear, like after the draft and it’s like, ‘the approach Brad Holmes is taking …,’ you hear that and it’s like, ‘Oh wow.’ I never really think about it like that because I’m really just into the process aspect of it. It seems real, because of all the duties outside of watching football. That’s when you get reminded that you’re a general manager.
“I never forget, Les Snead, my old boss with the Rams, he’d be like, ‘All this process evolution stuff, I don’t have time to watch film.’ He’d look at it like, ‘Watching film, that’s like, no, absolutely not.’ Now I get it. All these things that we’re trying to get accomplished at this moment in time — staffing, processing, football systems and all that, everything that’s coming down — it’s like I don’t have time to do anything except that right now. That’s when it kinda hits you that, yes, you are general manager and you don’t have time to do all that football stuff. You just don’t.
“You just have to get your processing systems right. That’s what we’re doing, and I think once we get that in place, it will be a lot smoother. This is just the heavy lifting part of it. All these other GMs, veteran GMs that I’ve talked to, they said this is the hardest part, this first year, especially the first six or seven months.”
► Q. Like drinking from a firehose?
► A. “Absolutely. That’s what it feels like. As much as you’ve got your 100 days lined out, and you’ve got all your calendars lined up, you can’t predict the unpredictable, you can’t predict the pop-ups.”
► Q. This job came with a very specific setup that might not have appealed to every candidate. You come in where they’ve essentially already picked a head coach, a salary cap specialist is in place and ownership wants to be involved. Given that, why was this still the right position for you?
► A. “What I heard going into the process, and obviously I was interviewing with multiple teams, the setup here, if you call it the setup, it would be very similar to how it is in Los Angeles, in terms of the structure and everything. The general manager will have these responsibilities, but may not have these responsibilities. Obviously, that was what I was used to, so I was like, ‘OK.’ Obviously I saw (in Los Angeles), and was involved with somewhat, in terms of the structure with Les, (chief operating officer) Kevin Demoff and (vice president of football and business administration) Tony Pastoors and (head coach) Sean McVay, just that whole structure.
“And I said, ‘Wow, that’s kind of always worked for Les.’ I know it’s changed over time, but the more I heard about it, and going into the interview process, you don’t really know know. You can hear it, and they can tell it to you, and I said this in my introductory press conference, I’ve told it a million times, but it’s the absolute truth, I did not, when I got on that first Zoom interview with Sheila (Ford Hamp), Rod (Wood), Chris (Spielman) and Mike Disner, it was an experience I did not expect. It just felt right. I previously had just got done with another interview the day before.”
► Q. That was with the Atlanta Falcons, correct?
► A. “Yeah, that one, and it was just completely different. Not saying there was anything bad about it, but they’re all different. The organizations are different, the structure is different, the ownership. I was like, ‘Wow.’
“I found out about the Atlanta interview first, so I found out about Detroit second. Obviously, I was living in Atlanta, so when I found out about the Detroit opportunity, now I’m trying to prepare for two different interviews at the same time, I still have my full-time job. It was tough, but I would say I got done with this (Detroit interview), I said, ‘Man, this just seems like the right fit.’ And the more dialogue that I had with Rod, Disner and Spielman, it was like, wow, it just felt natural.
“I will say that it’s actually exceeded my expectations. Les always said, from a cap standpoint, he would say, ‘If you get one of these jobs, they usually already have a guy in place for you.’ So I was like, ‘OK, so you just go with whatever guy they have in place?’ Well, I couldn’t be more thrilled that, specifically, Mike Disner is in place. You know what I mean? Those type of things, and starting at the top with Sheila, she’s just been special. She just has a special spirit about herself. And Rod, Chris, everyone, it’s been great.”
► Q. What’s the day-to-day interaction with ownership been like since you’ve started?
► A. “Sheila is special to the point where she’s the type, first of all, you want to win for, but you want to keep her informed. That’s just how she is. I know you mention involvement, her being involved a lot, well, I know one thing that she stated to Dan and myself through the interview process is having a collaborative culture. And that’s what I came from with the Rams, everything being collaborative. And I saw from the previous regime to the current regime with the Rams, that was a big change in that culture, with creating success. So that was natural for me.
“But I would say the great thing about Sheila is that she’s informed and her involvement is like, look, let me make sure you’re provided with the resources you need to succeed and let me put full trust in you that you can do your job. You couldn’t ask for a better situation, because there are times, I want to say the first set of free-agency meetings, I’ll never forget, there was something that came out in the media about she’s involved in free-agency meetings.
“Dan and I asked her, ‘Do you mind, if you have time, to stop by? I’d love to have you in?’ She was literally like, ‘Are you sure?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ She was like, ‘I don’t want to get in the way.’ She’s that type. Now granted, she’s providing everything. We made all these upgrades in our draft room, from a technology standpoint, and all this stuff. She’s provided all of that and I have to ask her and she’s like, ‘Are you sure? I don’t want to get in the way.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, please,’ because we’re just getting this thing going. You see that narrative put out in the media that ‘Sheila is involved,’ and all that and I’m like, ‘They don’t even understand.’ It’s probably the opposite of what they’re thinking.”
► Q. Yeah, I definitely wrote that story. I might have been the first to put it out there. I think it came from an interview Dan (Campbell) did with a radio station. Regardless, you try to have an ear for what’s interesting, and that was interesting. To me, it showcased her level of involvement. But I think it also showcases the difference between putting it out there, as interesting information, and maybe how different types of media, such as talk radio, might use it to develop that type of narrative you’re talking about.
► A. “It’s very positive involvement, I will say. It’s at a point where her office used to be right around the corner, away from everybody. Now she wants her office (to be closer) because she’s preaching collaboration and she wants to be visible. Her door is wide open every day that she’s in here. Her door is never shut unless she’s doing a Zoom interview. She’s doing exactly what she’s preaching, exactly what she wants the vision to be. And that’s been awesome because that’s very natural to Dan and myself. It’s not anything that Dan or I have to write down and remind ourselves that we need to be collaborative or we’ve got to make this fun.
“There’s one day she came in, I’ll never forget, early on in the process, around that free-agency meeting, and she heard the laughter down the hallway with the coaches and she’s like, ‘Wow, this is cool.’ Like, everybody is having fun at work and everybody is enjoying coming to the building. When she said that, it really brought a smile to my face.”
► Q. The collaborative approach has been at the forefront, and from the outside looking in, it seems to be genuinely working well. But you’re also in the honeymoon period as a regime. What gives you confidence that this collaborative approach is built to survive the adversity that all NFL teams experience?
► A. “Yeah, that relationship aspect that we talked about from the get-go, in terms of how tight Dan and myself have to be, tied at the hip. And that may sound like GM talk and head coach talk. Everybody says that, but it’s very important because that adversity is going to come. And I will say, the way Dan and I view adversity, even before it hits, there are times we did not agree on a player and it was an awesome moment because it gave us a little bit of a preview of how we can both learn something from each other in those moments.
“That’s kind of how I see things. I see disagreement, not being on the same page, those adversity moments as learning experience. Adversity should make you stronger. But man, free agency kind of went exactly about how I thought it was going to go. The draft, that’s an area of expertise of mine, I thought it went very, very well. It seems like, yes, things are going good. It’s going in the right direction. It seems like the city and everybody is appreciating the buzz of what we’re creating, but adversity is going to come, especially when those games come.
“I do think the culture we have in place, from a collaboration standpoint, the people that we have in this building, from the entire coaching staff, to the leadership atop the personnel department, we have the right people that will be able to withstand that. It is coming, but I don’t have any hesitation that it’s going to be able to derail our ship, in terms of where we’re trying to get to.”
► Q. Why is “rebuild” considered a dirty word?
► A. “You know, I didn’t know it was a bad word until I said retool. When I said retool, it was kind of like a constant, ‘Whoa, Brad said retool, not rebuild.'”
► Q. Well, I think they have different meanings
► A. “I think they’re different. It sounds like rebuild is more like ‘tear everything down and …’ Retool means like you’re fine-tuning, tweaking things here and there. I think what the narrative has been on the franchise is, OK, a lot of losses, a lot of times that have been down, then a regime gets fired, so it’s gotta be a rebuild. It’s gotta be that.
“But a rebuild, I feel like you put a timeline on things. Like, a rebuild has gotta take a lot of time. If we anchored ourselves into that thinking that, well, this is a rebuild, so we’ve got time. No, we don’t have time. We don’t have time to lay back and say this a rebuild, so we’ll kind of add a piece here and we’ll wait until next year. No, we’re trying to get the most competitive roster that we can in place as quick as we can.
“Now, I love the capital that we have in the future, from a draft standpoint, and I love the direction that we’re going, but I’m not blind to we’ve still got a lot of work to do. You know, the rebuild vs. retool, I see why people say it, but I’m big on avoiding anchors, and I just believe if you convince yourself and you believe it’s a rebuild, that you’ve got time; no, I don’t believe that.”
► Q. That’s fair. I see where you’re coming from, and particularly with the NFL, people expect turnarounds to happen more quickly. It’s not like baseball, where you can reasonable expect your draft picks to develop for three or four years.
► A. “What does it look like to you so far? Does it look more rebuild-ish?”
► Q. Honestly, it’s probably somewhere in between. Acquiring and committing to Jared Goff, a former No. 1 pick, to be your quarterback, that feels more like a retool. But then I look at all those one-year deals you signed in free agency, and the accumulation of the draft assets you mention, that screams rebuild.
► A. “Yeah, I can see why you say that.”
► Q. I’ll probably keep calling it a rebuild, but you don’t have to.
► A. (Laughing) “That’s fair. That’s fair.”